Thursday, February 27, 2014

And the winner is ...

Ms Katharina Schiller, Master student of the Food Security Center (FSC, University of Hohenheim) has won the first price in the agriwaterpedia.info Open Competition with her article on riverbed farming (click here to read the article).
Last year, she conducted research on leasehold riverbed farming for landless and landpoor households in the Terai, a technology that is promoted by one of SATNET Asia's associates Helvetas in Nepal.
Her article will help to disseminate high quality information on this sustainable technology to a wide audience. A factsheet and further detailed information on riverbed farming will also be available in the SATNET Asia online data base shortly.
agriwaterpedia.info is a wiki that focuses on agricultural water management and the challenge of achieving food security in the context of climate change in developing countries.
Many thanks to Helvetas Nepal for facilitating Ms. Schiller's research.
Ms. Schiller: Congratulations!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Progressive farmers’ perspective on research-extension linkages

In addition to cases presented by country government representatives, NGOs and the private sector, a presentation titled ‘Sustainable   Profitability in Diversified Farming with Self-research Findings’ was made by Mr. Mohinder Grewal, a progressive farmer from the state of Punjab in India, which captured perspectives of the farming community on the subject of research-extension linkages.

A number of successful examples of farmers’ self-driven research were presented, including inter-cropping of carrot with potato and improved practices/technologies for onion and garlic cultivation and harvesting. The potential of shifting from high-yielding to high-value crops to maintain soil health and productivity was also highlighted. However, it was pointed out that while progressive farmers play a vital role in agricultural research, their research findings are not well recognized by agricultural universities in most Asian countries and are not taken into account during dissemination of technologies.

As a specific case of research-extension linkage, various efforts of the Punjab Agricultural University were highlighted such as farmers’ fairs, books on packages of practices, coordination of activities by the University and the Department of Agriculture, and recognition/honour for progressive farmers. These also included leveraging ICT to promote extension through radio and television programmes for farmers, demonstration of audio and video tapes through ‘Mobile Diagnostic and Exhibition Vans’, mobile advisory services and ICT kiosks.   

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Research-extension systems led by the private sector

As a complement to the perspectives presented by the NGOs on the second day of the Expert Consultation on Strengthening Linkages between Research and Extension to Promote Food and Nutrition Security, two private sector representatives also offered their insights on the issue.

Mr. Mahbub Anam, Managing Director, Lal Teer Seed Limited, Bangladesh explained his company’s extension activities including adaptation trials, result and method demonstrations, farmers’ field days and community meetings. He stressed that “seed is the single most important input in crop production which ultimately results in food and nutrition security,” so “it is our responsibility to work until farmers get the right kind of products they deserve.” To ensure quality products for farmers, the firm offers after- sales service and makes sure their feedback reaches the company’s R&D department.

He also spoke about corporate social responsibility and why it is important for both farmers and the private sector. His firm sells a product called Mini Packet targeting homestead farmers as a part of its corporate social responsibility. “We subsidized the Mini Packet and lost money by selling the product. But we didn’t lose because that is also an extension program.”

A challenge facing the private sector is adulteration. The company estimates that it is losing 30 per cent of sales income due to counterfeit products.

Mr. Stuart Morris, Extension Manager, East-West Seed, Myanmar said “the success of our company is based on focusing on local needs and the local demand-specific market,” since “farmers’ income and the profits of companies go hand in hand as well as the sustainability of the market.” For this, his firm considers extension as an essential part of business and has integrated extension into the firm’s business strategy.

Describing the situation in Myanmar, he spoke of the high cost of disseminating “public goods” information and explained that it is sometimes challenging and time-consuming to change farmers’ perception about farming practices and technologies. Myanmar also lacks local R&D capacity so that all seeds must be imported.

His firm focuses on providing extension services and the most significant extension activity is to showcase profitable cases to local farmers through demonstration farms because the major source of knowledge for farmers in Myanmar are neighbours, rather than formal extension programmes. Other extension activities include collaboration with universities and farmers, peer-to-peer technology dissemination and cost-and- return record-keeping for optimal results.

He emphasized that the private sector should use market-aligned skills and technology to keep market-driven incentives for the service provider and the client. He insisted that the private sector has to understand that farmers are also entrepreneurs who would not utilize extension activities if these did not bring them income.

Prepared by Ms. Yuri Kim, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)
Panel discussion: Evolving role of extension systems, including ICT, as ‘knowledge brokers’ between researchers and farmers

The second panel discussion of the Expert Consultation focused on the evolving role of extension systems, including ICT, as knowledge brokers between researchers and farmers. ICT has become an important tool in promoting and facilitating agriculture development, and helping ensure food security.

The panelists included: Dr. Kiran Kokate, ICAR, India; Dr. Ranny Chaidirsyah, Head, Farming Institution Empowerment, National Centre for Agriculture Extension, Agency for Agricultural Extension and Human Resource Development, Ministry of Agriculture, Indonesia; Dr. Fabrizio Bresciani, Senior Agriculture Economist, The World Bank Group, Indonesia Country office; Mr. Tim Bennett, Managing Director, Managed Growth Group, Australia; Mr. Mohinder Grewal, farmer group representative, India.

ICT – facilitator of research-extension linkages

The first issue discussed was the perception of the ability of ICT to facilitate effective linkages between research and extension. It was pointed out that ICT has been particularly useful for crop diagnoses and assessing crop nutrition aspects, e.g. through photographs, as well as by facilitating access to expert views from different geographical areas. However, a more exciting development is possible if we start perceiving agriculture as an industry rather than as an entrepreneurial activity. Once viewed as an industry, ICT and mobile phone companies can be seen as avenues for transferring cash, dealing with remittances and better financing of agriculture. Increasingly, ICT systems are being used in other sectors of agriculture such as agroprocessing industries for quality checks and traceability of product market type by both small and large farmers in the Asia-Pacific region.

Opportunities are there, but constraints must be addressed

Recognizing the potential role of ICT in bridging the research and extension gap, the panelists noted that while ICT can indeed, facilitate another agricultural revolution, it needs to be used carefully to send the right information to farmers. Every technology has its limitations and there is need for more research on the use of ICT in agriculture. While the advantages of ICT are known, it is challenging to determine its usefulness for farmers. The panel stressed the need for striking a balance between institutions that develop applications for farmers, and their partnership development with the private sector such as mobile phone companies as well as farmers themselves. The Philippines, for example, has an ICT system for managing fertilizers and identifying soil conditions, but farmers need certain skills to use it (e.g. to enter numbers). Such constraints must be well understood.

Two-way communication that facilitates a learning process

The panel, however, pointed out that ICT should not only be used as media for information sharing but its potential to facilitate a learning process for all stakeholders should also be harnessed. Extension workers, who are intermediaries between researchers and farmers, need the capacity and knowledge to use various forms of ICT to facilitate interaction and ensure that correct and timely information is passed on to farmers. Panel members added that a trade-off needs to be made between specific information related to farmers’ conditions as well as general information facilitated by ICT. Certain applications under development are by-passing extension workers.

The panel discussed the ICAR experience with ICT in agricultural extension in India. ICAR has initiated mobile advisory services for extension workers at KVKs and is developing an e-farm service to provide alerts to farmers. However, while ICT services work well in some parts of India, their use in remote locations where availability of electricity is limited, remains a challenge. It is difficult for farmers to charge mobile phones to receive crop advisories from KVKs. Nevertheless, ICT can play an important role as was evident during the recent cyclone in the state of Orissa when the early warning system saved thousands of lives.

Opportunities to work with youth and financing institutions

The skills, motivation and enthusiasm needed to take up opportunities related to ICT vary across the globe. ICT is opening doors for young people who can start thinking of applying ICT tools to agriculture. As such, it was suggested to promote ICT use in agriculture by youth. ICT applications should also be used in the financial sector so that farmers can obtain information about how to get credit or repay bank loans using mobile phones. The panel added that microfinance institutions are very keen on using ICT applications as such institutions are increasingly interested in giving stronger advice and support to farmers with the objective of getting loans repaid.

Role of public-private partnership in ICT

Opportunities also exist to change regulations and policies to make ICT use easier for extension workers and farmers. In Indonesia, for example, the Central Bank is piloting an initiative that allows payments to be made using mobile phones. However, regulations need to be changed to provide such services to farmers on a wider basis. It was also emphasized that people at the grass roots need to be encouraged to collaborate in providing advisory services, market accessibility and electronic traceability.

Role of government

It is crucial that governments understand the potential of ICT in the agriculture sector. In India, for example, the Ministry of Agriculture is providing opportunities for stakeholders to come together to develop sustainable agriculture technologies, such as an ‘Agropedia’ (a farmers’ portal) for extension workers at KVKs. In Indonesia, the government is planning to open an ICT research centre to develop ICT applications specifically designed for farmers as a way of building trust.

Trust

Trust was again raised as an important issue in the use of ICT. It was pointed out that ICT-enabled information systems by themselves, do not guarantee the reliability of the information they provide to farmers. It is the role of extension workers to build trust by elaborating the messages transmitted to farmers in a format that farmers can interpret. Farmers often approach other farmers to help them interpret complex messages. Providing information on prices which can be verified by farmers could be proof for farmers that they can trust the system. However, trust is much easier to build when everyone shares common interests. It was mentioned that the level of trust in agricultural cooperatives is much higher than in other institutions.